When you’re faced with a squalling newborn and you have no idea why the poor thing is crying, you would be forgiven for thinking that ‘maternal instinct’ is another myth that your real life has just exploded.
But although it took me a few months I am now convinced that mother (or whoever the primary caregiver is) really does know best.
This knowledge is not, however, instinct. Maternal instinct might make you love and protect baby, but it doesn’t decode your baby’s cries or teach you how to soothe. That, I have found, comes with simply spending time with baby and learning what each of the cries mean. It’s not a physical or hormonal thing, it’s a mental, learned process. So when you give birth you don’t suddenly have all this knowledge to hand, and you shouldn’t feel inadequate if you don’t ‘just know’ what to do.
What can help in those first weeks is having a checklist to run through of what a cry could mean e.g. hunger, diaper change, tired, cuddle, pain. Tracy Hogg in her book ‘Top Tips from the Baby Whisperer’ has a useful chart of different baby cries that can help you on your decoding mission.
And then, once you’ve passed those first months of simply keeping baby alive, new (and more controversial) questions rear their heads – about everything from feeding to sleep to playtime.
When it comes to babies, it seems that there are almost as many theories as there are children. You will be bombarded with information from baby books, doctors, health visitors, family, friends, neighbors, the woman you met in the grocery store….plus an avalanche of flyers from every baby company who has your details. Not all your family and friends are going to agree with your choices. Total strangers will have no qualms about telling you that you’re doing something wrong.
And why? Because there is no right answer that applies to all babies. All there is is the right answer for your baby. And since you are the person who really knows your baby, only you know which is that ‘right’ answer.
Rest assured that soon your baby will let others know that you know what you’re doing. There will be times when baby tries to throw himself out of someone’s arms to get to you, when she stops crying the moment you pick her up, when he ignores everyone else in the room to crawl over and rest his little head on your knee. And it is at those times when the feeling hits you, I really do know best.